December 22, 2016

The Most Wonderful Time



Only three sleeps until Christmas! I love this time of year – the snow, the lights, the smell of baking, the Christmas tree, my birthday, the Christmas movies, the music...  
While the voice of Andy Williams affirms on the radio that this is the most wonderful time of the year, my news feed on my phone is full of images of frightened children trying to escape from bombs, bodies of humans lying crushed on the ground in a Christmas market, a man shooting another man in a house of ART... The world is breaking my heart. This is the most wonderful and the most vulnerable time of the year right here. I cannot help but think of the millions and millions of people going through assorted suffering, despair and injustice as I sit comfortably, in my warm, decorated home, writing blissfully away. Sadness and joy are equally feeding my soul. And a strange sense of irresponsibility slowly nests into my consciousness if I choose to only share the wonderful side of my simple Christmas and overlook the news of sorrows in the world. I know this world of ours has never been perfect or sensible. But we, people, still make it increasingly divisive. We are easily destroying a healthy morality system and code of conduct that shows us how to separate right from wrong. We carelessly ignore the proven connection of the butterfly effect, that even the smallest of occurrences, such as the flutter of a butterfly's wings, can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world. We, people, still perform activities that are tremendously destructive toward nature and humanity.....
How to find holiness in the messiness of this confusing world? How to survive my tears through the heartbreaking agony of parents whose children are killed before their eyes? How to sustain belief in ideals and human progress when civic values, freedom and rights are threatened? How to deal with my anger and hopelessness?
The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that the only possible answer to all these questions has been given to me and repeated time after time, after time, in one form or another:

"And thought I have the gift of prophecy and understanding all mysteries and all knowledge,
and thought I have all faith so that I could remove mountains and have not love,
I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor,
and  though I give my body to be burned and have not love,
it profith me nothing.
Love suffereth long and is kind.
Love envieth not.
Love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doeth not behave itself unseemly,
Seeketh not her own.
Is not easily provoked.
Thinketh no evil.
Rejoiceth not in inequity, but rejoiceth in the truth.
Bareth all things.
Believeth all things.
Hopeth all things.
Endureth all things.
Love never fails.
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But when I became a man, I put away childish things. But now abideth faith, hope, love... these three. But the greatest of these is LOVE."
                                                                                                                                                                    1 Corinthians 13

I know, the world does not need my opinion on everything. But the world, I believe, desperately needs my genuine empathy. My hope. My grace. My generosity. My acceptance. The world needs from me to do my job and to do it with passion. The world needs my contribution and accountability. My benevolence. My gratitude. My open heart. My love.  Most of all, the world needs my awareness and peaceful mind. No one can say it better than Etty Hillesum, the young Holocaust victim: "Living and dying, sorrow and joy, the blisters on my feet and the jasmine behind the house, the persecution, the unspeakable horrors – it is all as one in me, and I accept it all as one whole and begin to grasp it better of only for myself, without being able to explain to anyone else how it all hangs together... Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim larger areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and reflect it toward others. And more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world."
I wish we can each find a little more of that peace this Christmas, this most wonderful time of the year. I hope we can each find ways to connect with our better selfs and each other this Christmas, this wonderful time of the year. Whatever sadness, anger, or confusion reside in our souls, I hope we transform it together into openness, strength and determination to create a safer, tolerant and peaceful world. I hope, we can each slow down this Christmas, do less and feel more, practice compassion to all living beings and practice gratitude for all the things we have – a roof, heat, water, clothes, comfort food, lights, lovable people, healthy bodies, pets in our feet, a glass of hot wine in our hands, a blanket, a couch, a good book...


                                             Merry Christmas!





Fruitcake Rum Balls

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups ground almonds
6 tbsp icing sugar
1 cup vanilla wafer cookie crumbs (Mr.Christie's Nilla vanilla wafers)
2/4 cup chopped dried or glacé cherries
1/3 cup chopped candied fruits (pineapple, mango)
60 gr. marzipan, torn in small pieces
2/4 cup dark rum


Directions:

In a small bowl, mix 2 tbsp of the ground almonds with icing sugar. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, stir together remaining ground almonds, the cookie crumbs, cherries, mixed candied fruits and marzipan. Stir in rum; press into dough. Cover bowl with plastic wrap; refrigerate until firm enough to roll out, about 15 minutes.
Roll by rounding 1 tsp into balls. Arrange on waxed baking sheet; refrigerate until firm. Roll balls in icing sugar mixture.



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November 5, 2016

This Fearless November


I was driving on the highway singing out loud (one of my all time favourite things to do) along with the powerful voice of Dinah Washington "Today you're young, too soon you're old. But while a voice within me cries, I know heaven will answer my call and this bitter earth, ohh, may not be so bitter after all". Shortly I got stuck in traffic and a bumper sticker on the car in front of mine caught my eyes. Never let your fear decide your fate. I read the words once, twice... three times. Never let your fear decide your fate. The entire world squeezed into the word "fear" and my mind was somehow instinctively going through all the moments of fear I had experienced those past months. For the longest time in my life I had felt muddled by uncertainty and loss. I had easily let all of it prevent me from finding joy, seeing love, creating beauty. However, I had never lost faith in the goodness of life and I had never lost faith in the wisdom of the universe. I know how sometimes it is hard to follow your heart, but there is nothing worse than to let your fear decide your life. There is nothing more saddening than to vote out of fear, not travelling out of fear, not trying new things our of fear, not being yourself out of fear... There is hardly anything more dramatic than allowing fear to control your fate. I understand very well this kind of suffering from experience. And almost every time when I sense how I am using my mind to enforce my fear, I remember that summer evening when my father (who generally left to a great degree the parenting decisions to my mother who was a teacher) made my 8-year-old self go to the upper storey of my grandparents' house through the outdoor stairs, in the dark. I was crying and trembling, going back and forth, "No, I can't!", Yes! You CAN!", until I collected myself, marched up the old stone staircase, open the door, lit the light and saw that there was no such thing as monsters... or weird men waiting for me, and my fear of darkness was perhaps a result of my imagination. My grandma used to tell this story – brutal to her opinion – with a judgmental tone in her voice. But soon after it, I realized the lesson my father wanted me to know – confronting your fears will demystify them, allowing them to be conquered. Or to use the words on the bumper sticker – face your fear and never let it decide your fate. Yes, fear is a natural part of our lives and prevents us from dangerous situations. But it is really heartbreaking when fear keeps people from achieving their full potential, especially from living a mindful life. And it is then, when we lose faith in life and faith in ourselves and become fearful of what might come next.
What I also learned over the course of the months of this past summer is that the sooner I accept that life is uncontrollable, the quicker I am released from many of my fears. The ugly truth is that much of life is out of my hands and that is nothing to be afraid of. I cannot always know how things will turn out. I only know that I will always try my best. Therefore, it is imperative to let things unfold naturally and to find a way to be okay with that. Very often, due to the wisdom of the universe, events unfold even better than I expect. Besides, when I am obsessed with the outcome, I miss what is happening right now. Living in a profusion of security and predictability can create an attachment that prevents us, humans, from being awake and aware. Part of the joy of life is the surprises that pop up now and then when we exit our comfort zone.
"There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them", writes the French author Andre Gide. "Don't let your fears control you and cause you to miss life's many pleasures". And life, indeed, is full of many pleasures – simple and comforting – like the smell of roasted butternut squash with maple syrup, brown sugar and pecans;
like the beauty of a perfectly shaped light-orange pumpkin that evokes memories of love and kind living;
like a steaming bowl of homemade, warm, creamy squash and sweet potato soup that is nothing but a culinary extended hand, a tissue, a hug, a heart... And they might heal what frightens you right now.



Do you let your fear decide your fate? Do you let your fear stop you from experience life's many pleasures? How do you overcome your fear?    






 Roasted Squash, Sweet Potato & Garlic Soup 


Ingredients: 

1 sweet potato
1 acorn squash
3 shallots
2 tbsp olive oil
3-4 garlic cloves
3 3/4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup (approximately) light cream
salt and pepper
nutmeg (optional)
snipped chives to garnish


Directions: 

Preheat the oven to 375F.
Peel the squash, cut it in half and remove the seeds. Cut into 1 1/4- inch cubes. Peal and cut the sweet potato into cubes as well. Place the squash, potato, sliced shallots  and garlic cloves on a shallow roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil and toss well. Roast in the preheated oven for about 25-30 minutes, until the squash and potato are tender, turning once with a spatula. 
When ready, put the vegetables in a saucepan. Add the stock and a pinch of salt. Bring just to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, stirring until the veggies are very tender. Remove the pan from the heat and cool slightly, then process the soup using a handheld mixer (or in a blender or food processor) until smooth. 
Return to the pan and stir in the cream. Season gently to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg (optional), and simmer for about 5 more minutes. 
Ladle into warmed serving bowls, garnish with pepper and shipped chives, and serve. 


Enjoy!    

      

October 5, 2016

Plum Jam


There is nothing more invigorating than a walk in a crisp October Sunday morning after autumnal rain when the air is soaked with the smell of wet walnut leaves, freshly ground coffee, baked apples with cinnamon, a lovely fabric softener from a laundry... This amalgam of exciting fragrances of the neighbourhood's simplicity conjoins perfectly with the highly saturated palettes of golden yellows soon to become fiery reds, with a mix of orange in between and a brown edge... The previously dusty sidewalks are covered with a new glossy coat of cleanness and small mirrored puddles in which you can see your reflection. The sun is so gentle, you close your eyes – you breathe in light and breathe out ease... 
Each season brings its own mood and I love how Autumn makes me feel. I have been waiting for this depressing and sad summer of mine to finally come to an end. For so long I wanted to somehow be on the other side of my life, back to normalcy. After numerous situations in which I came up against a brick wall and the loss of my beloved grandmother, my emotional composure was challenged and I failed to maintain a positive self-image. I put so much energy into the unproductive "why me" thinking that I wanted so badly to run from this miserable person I had become. I've always known that there are never easy paths in life and our days have always started and ended with uncertainty. What appeared surprisingly difficult to me this time, was my lack of ability to let go of old illusions of control and to embrace life as it is; to accept grieving as a fundamental process of live. It felt strange and disappointing to be almost halfway through my life and still trying to figure basic things out. I struggled to accept the reality, which according to every member of my family wasn't as bad as I thought. I needed to go back to some of my favourite books, authors, artists and thinkers to find courage to overcome fears and gain wisdom, to stop the fight within me, let things go and begin practicing acceptance. And somehow I knew for certainty that the change in seasons will bring a transformation not only in nature, but in my lost self as well, because changes – welcomed or forced as well as the unbearable goodbyes have always been an important component of human evolution; we might never learn the true measure of our own strength if we haven't been pushed out of our comfort zone.
Slowly, with the warm colours of the landscape, with the return to the routine, the freshness of the rain, the abundance of the harvest, my pain, my fear and my worry have been replaced by open eyes able to notice again, a mind focused more on the present, a heart grateful for what I have rather than what I want, and arms wide spread for the simple joys in my world... and the more I have been taking notice of what brings me joy, the more joy I have been finding in my everyday life (like cooking in the kitchen again and making this rich and flavourful oven-baked plum jam from locally grown Danson plums using my mom's recipe).
And perhaps the wisdom I have been searching for these past months hasn't been hidden only in the books, but rather in my ability to trust my own true nature and letting life carry me through my darkest times and my glory...    



Plum Jam
 (makes 2 jars of 300ml)

Ingredients:

1 kg. Danson plums
0.5 kg. sugar
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/3 cup water
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
vanilla bean

Directions: 

Wash, pit and halfen the plums. Spread them in a baking dish. Add sugar on it and stir. Cover the dish and leave it for about 5-10 hours. Plums should absorb the sugar and release their juice. Add water, vanilla and cinnamon. Stir well. 
Preheat oven to 300C. Bake until bubbles appear and plums texture gets dense – about an hour and a half, depends on how ripe the fruits are. Add 1 tbsp. of freshly squeezed lemon juice and bake for a few more minutes.
Pour jam into sterilized glass jars.   





Sharing with Home Sweet Home




October 1, 2016

Cultivate... community



                         "Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious." 
                                                                                                                                – Ruth Reichl

One of the most beautiful season in Ontario is here and the best way to welcome Autumn is to celebrate our connection to the generous earth and nature at it best. Harvest festivals and fall fairs are organized in big and small cities around the province giving people opportunities to share values of supporting local produces, local art culture and food education. Why is local important? Besides learning where our food comes from, keeping in touch with the seasons and improving our health, by buying locally grown food we strengthen our community by investing our food dollars close to home. Did you know that every dollar you spend on food grown or harvested in Ontario or made from Ontario ingredients, contributes 300% more to local economy than if you bought an import? Or that every dollar you spend on VQA wine, for example, instead of imported wine has 11 times the economy impact in Ontario? (Ontario Local Food Report). So, when last week I was invited to take part in a three day food and drink festival held in the heart of downtown Port Hope, about an hour east of Toronto, I was excited. After all, who doesn't want to spend a Sunday eating freshly prepared local food, drinking craft beer (not me, but my husband) and fair trade coffee, listening to local bands, cooking with chefs, tasting winning pies from a pie-baking competition, drawing at the community coloring book and sticking fingers in a pink cloud of cotton candy made with organic sugar...

Lots of really nice things are happening at Cultivate: A Festival of Food and Drink and if you have a chance, go and participate next year. Go and celebrate a wonderful community that gathers to connect to Ontario's harvest season, to great local food, to local producers, knowledgeable chefs and to each other. A community that is aware of the importance of the farm-to-fork movement and food literacy. A community that knows that what we eat and how we eat it can change the world... Yes, it can!  



          
Do you have a favourite Fall event?